The kratom industry is no stranger to controversy and stigma. Despite a growing body of evidence for kratom’s legitimate therapeutic uses, kratom use remains controversial, the FDA continues to restrict access to kratom, and disinformation runs rampant.
The controversy, FDA actions, and disinformation aren’t just a matter of swaying public opinion. They pose a genuine, material impediment to users’ access to all-natural, safe kratom. To keep kratom accessible, safe, and legal, it’s vital for users everywhere to support kratom advocacy and share their insights.
In this article, we go over recent developments in the FDA’s war on kratom. We’ll cover the FDA’s actions against the kratom community, their flimsy justifications, and cover the actual research about why safe, legal kratom should remain available throughout the US.
FDA and Kratom: The Battle Thus Far
Kratom and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have a storied past, full of conflict and controversy. The FDA has tried to ban kratom before, though such attempts have failed (primarily due to outpourings of support and testimony from advocacy groups and individual users). Despite that, the FDA imposes restrictions on virtually every aspect of the kratom industry, including what information can even be shared about it.
More and more research is being done on kratom. The overwhelming majority of such studies support kratom’s therapeutic potential and reinforce the idea of keeping kratom legal and widely available to users.
And yet, the FDA’s official stance on kratom remains unchanged, and their efforts to restrict access continue undaunted.
FDA Crack Downs and Seizures
On May 21, 2021, the FDA announced that it had seized approximately $1.3 million of supposedly adulterated supplements containing kratom.
The seizure, which took place in Florida, included supplements containing kratom as a primary ingredient and over 34,000kg of raw bulk kratom. The kratom in question was marketed under the brand names Boosted Kratom, The Devil’s Kratom, Terra Kratom, Sembuh, Bio Botanical, and El Diablo.
Flimsy Grounds for Seizures
Notably, none of those brands are certified by the American Kratom Association, which does raise questions about the products’ origins and quality.
But the FDA seizure makes no mention of any such defects. Despite claiming that the seized kratom products were “adulterated”, there is no cited evidence that the products in question were contaminated, tainted, or otherwise of inferior quality.
Rather, it seems that the kratom seizures are a bald-faced attempt at disrupting the supply chain of kratom coming into the US. And while an individual seizure isn’t going to cripple the industry or dramatically limit users’ access to kratom, it certainly has an impact and sets a worrisome precedent.
Death By a Thousand Cuts: The Effects of FDA Crackdowns
Each time the FDA seizes kratom imports, it damages the brands directly affected. Sometimes the brand may have difficulty recovering from the blow; it may be enough to effectively force the brand to close shop. And as more and more kratom vendors and brands are affected, access to kratom will become increasingly difficult to find.
In effect, it’s a death by a thousand cuts: individual seizures won’t cripple the industry, but the aggregate effect could, if given enough time.
If the FDA is only seizing legitimately adulterated and inferior products, it benefits the community. But their current efforts don’t appear to be aimed at improving the quality of available kratom. Instead, the FDA is using the term “adulterated” as nothing more than a flimsy cover for their unwarranted war on kratom.
Misinformation and Efforts to Sway Public Opinion
The FDA’s war against kratom isn’t just conducted through seizures and other material efforts. It’s also an ideological battle, fought over public perceptions and seeking to further stigmatize kratom in the eyes of the American public.
A recent Twitter dialogue between former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and former Assistant Secretary of Health Brett Giroir illustrates both the conflict and the absurdity of the FDA’s stance.
Following the May seizures in Florida, Gottlieb lamented that the FDA was “prevented by HHS from moving forward with the scheduling of Kratom.” Further, he doubled down on misguided and ludicrous misinformation, stating, “I’m convinced [kratom is] fueling the opioid addiction crisis.”
Somewhat hypocritically, Gottlieb is on the board of directors for Pfizer, a drug manufacturer responsible for several prescription opioids and with a history of lawsuits for misleading and damaging opioid marketing tactics. Read: a company actually fueling the opioid crisis.
Giroir rebutted Gottlieb’s ill-founded claims with startling frankness. He clarified that the FDA’s attempted kratom ban was overturned for a good reason: it was based on “embarrassingly poor evidence & data, and a failure to consider overall public health”.
It’s a damning statement from a former government official most in the know and a reminder that the FDA’s war on kratom is based more on bias and ego than on science.
What the Science Says About Kratom
One important reason kratom remains controversial is the relative lack of scientific research into its uses and safety. However, more kratom research is underway than ever before, and the future is bright.
While research shows that kratom does have potential for abuse, the growing consensus is that it also offers legitimate therapeutic potential and should not be dismissed as a dangerous drug.
A 2020 study from Johns Hopkins concluded that kratom “likely has a lower rate of harm than prescription opioids for treating pain, anxiety, depression, and addiction.”
Dr. Albert Garcia-Romeu, instructor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, commented on the findings. He reflected that the results “suggest that kratom doesn’t belong in the category of a Schedule I drug because there seems to be relatively low rate of abuse potential, and there may be medical applications to explore, including as a possible treatment for pain and opioid use disorder.”
“There has been a bit of fearmongering,” Garcia-Romeu added, “because kratom is opioidlike, and because of the toll of our current opioid epidemic.” The point reinforces the absurdity of the FDA’s war on kratom, its misguided justifications, and its ineffectual goals.
Granted, more research absolutely should and in fact needs to be performed on kratom. However, the growing body of clinical evidence does not support the FDA’s claims, nor does it support the idea that natural, unadulterated kratom poses any meaningful public health risk.
Kratom Advocacy and the Future of the Kratom Industry
Greater knowledge of kratom’s applications allows advocates like the American Kratom Association to win hearts and minds, push for greater transparency, and push local jurisdictions to pass legislation keeping kratom legal, safe, and available for users everywhere.
Kratom advocates are winning more and more battles, and more states are passing legal protections for kratom use and quality standards.
But despite the growing consensus, the FDA’s war on kratom continues unabated. With each seizure, each misguided and misinformed tweet, the FDA seeks to chip away at the industry such that it won’t be able to recover.
The future of kratom looks bright, but it’s more important than ever for kratom users to lend their voice to the cause.
By reaching out to your local lawmakers or learning more about individual kratom advocacy, you can do your part to help ensure that all-natural, safe kratom remains legal and available and help combat the ongoing anti-kratom efforts.